After the totally unexpected success of the zombie saga “REC” (“Quarantine” is the title of the disappointing American remake) which made him popular all around the world, the hispanic director and screenwriter Jaume Balaguerò leaves behind the overused (and abused) found footage style and returns to the big screen with a new interesting thriller set in his beloved Barcelona. Based on a novel by the Italian author Alberto Marini, mientras duermes (literally “while you’re sleeping”) focuses on the story of a miserable block of apartments’ janitor named Cesar, played by a convincing Luis Tosar (Celda 211), who suffers from a permenent grief that prevents him from being happy. The only way for him to cope with his uneasinnes seems to be by harassing other people’s lives and in particular Clara’s, a young cheerful tenant played by the genuine Marta Etura. In order to feel satisfied, Cesar plans to wipe the smile off Clara’s sweet face. Every night he sneaks into her apartment and hides under her bed before she gets back from work. When Clara is deeply asleep, he drugs her and sleeps with her. Nobody knows about Cesar’s disturbing behaviors, except Clara’s neighbor Ursula, a 12 year old smart girl who spies on the concierge movements from her flat’s door spyhole every day.
Balaguerò has always known how to direct a good and original horror movie and how to scare people to death. This is only the second time (after his short movie “Para entrar a vivir” (To let)) he tests himself with a classic thriller where there are no monsters or hidden spirits involved in it. In fact Marini’s script is a tale about ordinary people confronting everyday life. Some of the characters are good, others like Cesar are deceptive. This latter looks like a nice and charming concierge, but he actually conceals a spooky double personality. In a film it’s always hard to make suspenseful and believable scenes when dealing with human beings and their psychology, but the catalan director took this challenge and succeeded in filming a scary thriller with a quite unusual twisted ending. Compared to all the others American classic thrillers, in this one we are not dealing with a real psychopath or a killer, but with an ordinary man who chose to harrass a woman who is happier and more satisfied with her life than he is.
One of the merits of this movie is with no doubt the excellent cast. The acting is true to life!(Luis Tosar’s performance in particular). Also the piano main theme by Luca Vidal, one of the most promising Spanish composers, sounds both powerful and melancholic. Maybe it would have been interesting if the screenwriter had decided to focus a bit more on the reasons which led the main character to develop his psychological symptoms, in order to study in depth Cesar’s behaviors. Nevertheless, the script and dialogues turn out to be not superb but very enjoyable.What makes this movie unusual and original is the view prospective. The story is told from the point of view of Cesar and the spectator involuntarily is lead to take up his defense. In one of the most suspenseful scene Clara comes back home with her ex boyfriend while the concierge is waiting for her under her bed. At this point the tension in the flat is tangible. The audience starts feeling on edge and uncomfortable like the mischevious Cesar. Balaguerò wanted us all under the bed with the “boogeyman” and not above it on the safe side. However, after the first twenty minutes, the film starts repeating itself; showing the daily routine of the protagonist hidden under the bed, longing for his prey. The lack of relevant changes in the final script may provoke a few yawns.
Mientras duermes reminded me of some scary masterpieces directed by one of the most innovative and visionary metteur en scène of all times: Roman Polanski. Like in Repulsion and Rosemary’s baby, Balaguero’s movie is set in an ordinary flat and the co-protagonist is a beautiful young woman. In both films, facts unfurl basically in Carol Ledoux’s and Rosemary’s disturbed psyche, in sleep tight every single action is witnessed by the deviated concierge’s point of view and it appears disturbingly real. Besides, like Sir A.Hitchcock, Balaguerò, looks thrilled by the guilty pleasure of thrusting into people lives and witness despicable events without feeling the real pain. (Cesar from under the bed, Ursula from the spyhole of her flat door, the director behind the camera).
Mientras duermes (which won the award for “best script” at the Montreal International Fantasia Film and in list at the London Frightfest) is well worth seeing because Europe and America haven’t yet had the chance to see a genuine and original product with such a potential. Besides, as the director claimed, sometimes human beings are way scarier than zombies and I totally agree.